Disabled Air Force veteran and family rang in the new year in donated house built for them

Julie Anne Wright, 4, plays as Robert and Bethany watch in the fully-furnished home they received, located in North Charleston, through Operation FINALLY HOME. Robert Wright, a US Air Force Staff Sergeant, was diagnosed with a brain cyst in 2012 and the new home was built to accommodate his needs. Paul Zoeller/Staff

Just six months ago, 35-year-old Air Force veteran Robert Wright returned to the Charleston area with his wife and four children to face an uncertain future.

A large cyst on Wright's brain had resulted in his medical retirement from the service he joined in 1997, serving multiple deployments overseas. With a stent in his brain and unable to work, Wright would be staying at home with wife Bethany, 33, who home-schools their four children, two of whom have medical issues as well.

They never expected that home would be a new 5-bedroom house, fully furnished and mortgage-free, in the emerging McKewn subdivision in North Charleston.

"It still seems like a dream," said Bethany Wright, sitting in her living room on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, surrounded by family members and new furniture.

It all started with a phone call, in early 2013 when the family was still at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Robert Wright's most recent assignment. A counselor has been assigned to work with the family to transition into medical retirement, and she connected them up with a group called Operation Finally Home.

Operation Finally Home is a nonprofit group created in 2005 to provide custom-made, mortgage-free homes to wounded and disabled veterans, and to veterans' widows. The group, based in Texas, had never built a home in South Carolina.

After the Wrights returned to the Charleston area in July - Robert served most of his years in the Air Force at the base in Charleston - the family got a call saying the folks from Operation Finally Home would like to interview them.

They were to meet up with an official from the nonprofit group, who would drive the whole family to a meeting with another executive, where their application would be evaluated.

Unknown to the family, the Wrights had already been chosen.

"When we showed up, on Sept. 11, that's when we found out," Bethany said. "We got to the back of the (McKewn) neighborhood and there were all these people clapping."

The PulteGroup had donated a lot and the cost of building a new house. Contractors, vendors, and civic clubs at Del Webb Charleston, a PulteGroup affiliate, pitched in as well, paying for furniture, property taxes - even groceries, tablet computers for the children, and a Christmas tree.

For most of the next three months the Wrights would come by and watch their house being built.

"From the time they poured the foundation up until about Dec. 1, they let us come and see it take shape," Robert said.

Then, on Dec. 6, the Wrights moved into their new 2,710-square-foot house. The children seem just as thrilled as the parents. Elisabeth, 13, Abigail, 11, Mikey, 9, and 4-year-old Julie Ann each have rooms that were decorated to their liking before they moved in.

Julie Ann is pleased to tell visitors that her room is painted pink. Elisabeth, the eldest, finds it exciting and "surreal" to have not only her own room, but her own bathroom.

"Compared to our house on the Naval Weapons Station, this place is a castle," she said.

From the backyard playground to the blankets on the beds and dishes in the cupboards, everything was waiting for them the day they moved in.

"They thought of everything," Bethany said.

Robert said they like the neighborhood, which is still being developed. It's part of the construction boom that's taking place along Patriot Boulevard near Palmetto Commerce Parkway.

"There are a lot of Air Force families in here," Robert said.

An empty lot behind the Wright's home will soon have a house on it, and for now the Wright's street can't be found on Google Maps, because it's so new.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.